"Tomorrow's my last day," said R.J. Marshall, 64, of Parkville, who was due to retire Feb. 27 after 45 years with the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.
Marshall was celebrating at Mount Washington Tavern, where he nursed a shot of bourbon and hobnobbed with celebrity bartender Ed Norris, the former Baltimore City police commissioner turned sports radio personality.
Marshall said his daughter, Rene, heard about an upcoming bourbon tasting at the restaurant and bar and suggested it as a night on the town.
But there was another factor in his decision to party at Mount Washington Tavern.
"It's a fundraiser," he said, when asked why he came. "That's one of the reasons behind it."
It wasn't the main reason, he acknowledged.
"The bourbon's the main reason," he said with a smile.
No one was offended by that logic, least of all Paula Bragg, director of philanthropy for the nonprofit Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, which was the beneficiary of the $25-per-person bourbon tasting, with all proceeds earmarked for the hospital.
It's not unusual to find Mount Washington Tavern raising money for the hospital or providing food for hospital events. In fact, it's been common for more than two decades, say Bragg and Rob Frisch, co-owner of the popular restaurant with Dave Lichty since 2006.
Frisch and Bragg estimate that Mount Washington Tavern has raised $150,000 for Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital since 1993, when then-owner Theodore Bauer decided to earmark proceeds from a charity golf tournament to the hospital.
"The previous owner thought, 'The hospital is a local institution,'" and therefore was worthy of a fundraiser, Frisch said. That was the beginning of the relationship, and "we just kept it going," he said.
Many businesses and corporations locally and nationally act as sponsors or donors to nonprofit groups and institutions for programs ranging from adopting roads and schools for maintenance and cleanup to contributing items for fundraising auctions or donating 10 percent of a restaurant's proceeds for a day.
But Bragg said most such efforts are program-specific or occasional and that it's rare for a business and nonprofit to nurture a long-term partnership.
"This is not the norm," said Bragg, who is new to the pediatric hospital but a veteran of the philanthropy industry. "Many organizations will pick a nonprofit and have an event once."
On the hospital's behalf, Mount Washington Tavern has sponsored or hosted everything from toy drives and golf tournaments to an ongoing brick paver program in which people can pay $75 to have a brick engraved in their name or the name of a loved one and embedded in the sidewalk outside the restaurant.
Even after a two-alarm fire in 2011 forced Frisch and Lichty to rebuild, they kept their commitment to host a golf tournament and dinner at Elkridge Country Club to raise money for the hospital.
Mount Washington Tavern hosted the bourbon tasting, called Kentucky Nights and featuring tastings donated by 10 different craft distilleries. KO Distillers, which plans to open in Manassas, Va., underwrote the event, providing $500 for food.
About 100 people attended and Frisch said he expected the event to raise about $2,500 for the pediatric hospital.
"I've been coming here (to Mount Washington Tavern) for years," said former Mount Washington resident and KO Distillers CEO Bill Karlson, who with John O'Mara co-founded the distillery, which is scheduled to open in mid-May. Both men were on hand for the bourbon tasting.
Karlson said Frisch told him several months ago that Mount Washington Tavern was hosting its first-ever bourbon tasting as a benefit for the hospital.
"I said, 'Count me in.'"
In addition to being altruistic, the event was a promotional opportunity for KO.
"We wanted to get the word out," O'Mara said.
It was also good public relations for WJZ-FM' and its show The Fan 105.7, which Norris co-hosts. Norris, also a former Mount Washington resident, emceed the most recent holiday toy drive in December 2014. Last week, he was the special guest, dispensing bourbon, chatting up customers, posing for photographs and signing autographs.
"We wanted to do some charity events" at Mount Washington Tavern, Norris said.
Next up for Mount Washington Tavern is a March Madness event, still being planned in conjunction with the annual NCAA college basketball tournament.
And the restaurant is donating silent auction items — probably dinner for four people or a happy hour for 20 — to the pediatric hospital's second annual Storybook Gala, a fundraiser on May 2 at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore. The presenting sponsor for that event is Quotient, Inc., which provides "technical solutions" to government and commercial clients, according to its website.
For people such as Marshall, the retiring BGE project manager, and Craig and Avery Wyman, of Lutherville, the bourbon tasting was fun for a good cause.
Like Marshall, Avery Wyman, an Internet entrepreneur, said she came for the bourbon but the fundraising aspect sealed the deal.
"It was a nice add-on," she said.
"It made me purchase the ticket," said her husband, a photographer.
Bragg said all proceeds will go to the hospital's Child Life department to pay for field trips and other activities for sick children.
"The kids are winning tonight," she said.